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Liven your presentations by activating your audience’s reticular activating systems

01 Jun, 2020 Speeches and presentations

Have you heard of a person’s reticular activating system? Their whaaat???

If you are presenting educational or informational material to an audience, you can use each person’s reticular activating system to improve retention of the material. The reticular activating system (RAS) is the part of a person’s brain that has the role of attention maker or attention breaker.

When a learning environment becomes routine, ie familiar and repetitive, the RAS takes on the role of attention breaker. It filters the incoming information, decides there is nothing significant to pay attention to, and allows the listener to switch off – to daydream, to think about unrelated things, or even (aagh!) to fall asleep.

When the environment changes from the familiar, the RAS becomes the attention maker. It directs the learner’s brain to consciously pay attention.

The RAS prevents a person from suffering information overload. It filters out the routine from your conscious mind. An example is your daily travel to work. You probably don’t even remember your trip to work yesterday because your RAS allowed your active mind to move to other things.

The RAS also works the other way. For instance, if you buy a certain make and model of car, in the early stages of ownership the RAS will direct you to notice every other car on the road that is the same make and model as yours. Also, the RAS acts to wake you in the middle of the night from a deep sleep to enable you to go to the bathroom.

The importance to presenters is clear. When you want learners to pay close attention to important information, you have to catch the attention of the RAS by changing something in the environment.

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About the author Kim Harrison

Kim Harrison loves sharing actionable ideas and information about professional communication and business management. He has wide experience as a corporate affairs manager, consultant, author, lecturer, and CEO of a non-profit organization. Kim is a Fellow and former national board member of the Public Relations Institute of Australia, and he ran his State’s professional development program for 7 years, helping many practitioners to strengthen their communication skills. People from 115 countries benefit from the practical knowledge shared in his monthly newsletter and in the eBooks available from

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